flying over the muldrow glacier with mount denali in the background

A Guide to the Denali Winter Summit Flight from Fairbanks

During my winter trip to Fairbanks, Alaska, I hopped on a tour with Northern Alaska Tour Company on their Denali Winter Summit Flight, which takes you from Fairbanks to the tallest mountain in North America.

It was an incredible and jaw-dropping experience and one that honestly shows you why this place is protected and should be revered. Many other places can’t beat Alaska’s beauty. Getting up to eye level with Denali’s summit is something that you’ll remember for the rest of your life.

Plus, it’s wild coming from Fairbanks, where everything is flat, and then slowly seeing the mountains of the Alaskan Range appear before Denali emerges.

At 20,310 feet, Denali doesn’t just rise from the landscape; it separates itself like few other mountains on Earth. With a prominence of over 6,000 feet, it ranks third in the world behind only Everest and Aconcagua.

Inside, you’re going to get everything you need to know about taking this flight and awesome photos.

Eye-to-Eye With Mount Denali, North America’s Tallest Peak

Let’s dive in, shall we?

My first-hand experience on the Denali Winter Summit Flight

This was something I’d been tossing around for a few days as I really wanted to get back to Denali. In 2021, my partner and I did a trip out of Talkeetna, and it was the coolest thing I’ve ever done.

So, when we had a clear day, I jumped on the Denali Winter Summit flight, which was entirely worth it!

the inside of the airplane
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

I was the first on the plane, getting the seat behind and to the pilot’s right. The four other passengers were 2 x 2 behind me. The one thing I wasn’t stoked about was the wings. They were below the window (for that flight in 2021, they were above the windows, giving you a clear view), which means they could get in your camera shot.

Thankfully, our pilot was super friendly throughout the flight, giving us plenty of chances to get the shots. He also held conversation, tilted both wings to provide us with better views, and shared tidbits of knowledge about the area and flying.

The flight

The beginning and end are a bit anti-climactic because the landscapes around Fairbanks are boring and flat. But once you get closer to the Alaskan Range and Denali National Park, the views explode, and you will see the best sights of your life.

jagged peaks and snowy glaciers taken from the sky
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch – Alaska 2024
the alaskan range from a flightseeing trip
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch – Alaska 2024

The six of us, including the pilot, cruised at around 6,000 feet for the first quarter of the flight before slowly increasing our altitude as we headed towards 20,000 feet and change. As we neared 12,000 feet, we put on our oxygen masks. We wore those for the next 45 minutes as we crept higher and higher into the Alaskan airspace.

Before long, we were approaching Denali’s summit and looking eye-to-eye at the tallest point in North America. It was a magical experience on the Denali Winter Summit flight!

I mean, you have Denali at 20,310 to your left, Mt. Foraker at 17,400 to its southwest (right side), and more glaciers than you can count flowing all over the place. It’s just a wild, wild landscape that makes you feel lucky to be alive!

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Once we passed Denali’s summit, we U-turned so the other side of the plane could get a good look. From here, we passed the Wickersham Wall, an impressive 14,000-foot wall of ice and rock leading towards Denali’s summit on its north face.

The plane, descending ever slowly as we traversed the Alaskan Range back towards Fairbanks, weaved above the landscape, giving us epic views of the glaciers below and snowcapped peaks in all directions.

There’s honestly nothing like being above this landscape. It’s hands down the most impressive I’ve ever seen.

viewing the top of denali from my denali winter summit flight in the alaskan range
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch – Alaska 2024
the tallest peak in north america, mount denali from the air
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch – Alaska 2024

Heading back

As we pulled away from the mountains and headed towards Fairbanks, the views subsided, and we all got a chance to take a breath and let out exclamations of how fantastic a trip it was. It was truly magical.

While nothing will rise above what it was like to fly amongst the jagged peaks of Denali for the first time, this one was pretty damn great and so worth it!

What you need to know about the flight

How much does the Denali Winter Flight Summit cost?

The costs vary slightly depending on the date for the Denali Winter flight summit tour. But you’ll pay $569 or $529 for this two-hour experience.

Is a winter summit flight worth it?

I know it is expensive, and for some couples, dropping $1,000 bucks on top of your vacation costs is not doable. And that’s okay. But if you have the financial means to experience this flight, do it.

It’s an unbelievable trip, and there’s simply no other way to see the mountain. North Alaska Tour Company runs a fantastic operation, and you’ll feel safe the entire way.

Will I need to wear an oxygen mask?

You will wear oxygen when you take the Denali Winter Summit flight. We put ours on around 12,000 feet and took it off once we descended. I didn’t feel it obstructed anything or made the flight any better/worse.

They say those with sinus issues or recent dental work may want to opt-out due to pressurization pain. Or you tough it out.

snow and rocky edges on denali in alaska
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch – Alaska 2024

What should I wear while on the Denali Winter Summit flight?

The plane does have heat, but it’s not overwhelming. I wore a beanie, pants, warm shoes, a down jacket, a fleece, and a base layer. It was -5 when we walked onto the runway, so it was pretty cold!

I recommend wearing plenty of clothes, and if you need to remove them on the flight, do it then. One of the ladies on the flight wore toe warmers. Lastly, you cannot bring bags onto the plane. You have to basically bring anything you can hold in your hands. (Water bottles are okay.)

In a perfect world, where should I take my Denali flight from?

While it’s nice to have access from Fairbanks, the best place to do it is Talkeetna (or Healey). This is because you are closer to Denali and the Alaskan Range and don’t have to waste precious flight time going over the flats near Fairbanks.

snowy mountains in alaska from an airplane
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch – Alaska 2024

Can you fly to the top of Mount Denali?

We flew right around eye level to Denali. My watch had us at 20,652, 342 feet higher than the summit. However, we stuck to the mountain’s west side and did not fly directly over it.

I asked the pilot if he ever does, and he said it’s not very likely because of the winds. (Denali is known to have some of the fiercest winds of the major mountains.)

Ultimately, it all comes down to weather conditions and how comfortable your pilot is. I know it would have been incredible to look directly down on the tallest point in North America.

What is the best time for a Denali flightseeing trip?

For this winter Denali flight, you want a clear day. Temperature is an afterthought, as these planes can fly in most conditions. If you’re aiming for better photos, not in the middle of the day like I did is best, but you might not have a choice.

views of denali, the tallest peak in north america on my denali winter summit flight
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch – Alaska 2024
snow mountains of the alaskan range on my flightseeing trip
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch – Alaska 2024

How much does it cost to fly around Denali?

For my trip, the weather kept us from circumnavigating the mountain. Additionally, I am not 100% sure the Fairbanks flight does go around. I know there are flightseeing tours from Talkeetna that circumnavigate Denali – because I was on one in 2021.

For Talkeetna Air, it is $415 for the Grand Denali Tour, with the glacier landing (which is worth it) costing $535 per person. For K2 Aviation, it’s $430 and $555, respectively.

Planning your trip to Alaska

If you want to get eye-to-eye with the tallest mountain in North America in winter, you’ll want to head to Fairbanks or Talkeetna. These are the main launching points for these amazing flightseeing tours.

Fairbanks, Alaska

Where to stay?

I stayed at Sophie Station Suites and Pikes Waterfront Lodge. Both were nice. Pikes had breakfast from 6-10am every day. Sophie Station did not.

📍Budget Lodging: Extended Stay America Suites Fairbanks
📍Mid-Tier Lodging: Sophie Station Suites | Pike’s Waterfront Lodge
📍Upscale Lodging: Hampton Inn and Suites

Do you need a rental car?

You don’t need a rental car in Fairbanks. If you plan to take tours, you could find a way to get picked up and dropped off at your hotel for all the excursions.

I had a rental car because I went aurora hunting for a few nights and needed a little freedom.

Food recommendations?

Thai food is all the buzz in Fairbanks. And funny enough, it’s all I ate! Lemongrass and Thai House were fantastic, and I highly recommend them.

How many days?

I recommend no fewer than four nights in Fairbanks during your trip. This will provide you enough nights to see the northern lights and enjoy other aspects of the city, take a tour into the Arctic Circle, and maybe even hop on a Denali Winter Summit flight.

What else is there to do?

Talkeetna, Alaska

Where to stay?

📍Budget Lodging: Talkeetna Inn
📍Mid-Tier Lodging: Meandering Moose
📍Luxury Lodging: Denali Overlook Inn

Do you need a rental car?

It’s probably best to have a rental car to get to Talkeetna from Anchorage (or Fairbanks, but that’s a long drive). There are shuttles to escort you and the train, which takes three hours.

Food recommendations?

We made our meals while in town, so I don’t have much to offer on my experience. But there’s Denali Brewpub, The Burger Barn, Mountain High Pizza, Kahiltna Bistro, and Talkeetna Tako.

How many days?

I would give you two nights in Talkeetna if there’s less than ideal weather for your Denali winter flightseeing tour.

What else is there to do?

This is a cute town, and Talkeetna has many things to do. I wrote about 16 fun activities here. But for winter, you’ll be a bit more limited.

Photos from my Denali Winter Summit Flight

The views were absolutely amazing up there. Everything was snow-covered, the glaciers were beautiful, and the peaks could cut through butter. Hopefully, these photos do the tour justice.

FAQ: Fairbanks and Denali

Can you see Denali from a plane?

The only time you’re most or less guaranteed to see Denali from a plane is on a flightseeing tour. I’m not well-versed in the views from a commercial flight from Fairbanks to Anchorage. You’d have to have a west-facing window and hope for clear skies.

But even that might not allow you to see Denali.

Will I see Denali when I visit Alaska?

That’s the age-old question. The saying goes that only about 30% of visitors to Alaska see Denali. For some dumb luck I’ve never not seen Denali on my two trips. So I’m hogging all the views.

But if you take a Denali Winter Summit Flight, you’ll likely see it simply because you’ll be close and above any low-hanging clouds.

Can you go to Denali in the winter?

Yes, you can, but the park is even more limited than it usually is. That being said, it is not closed and is very much open. The road is closed at mile three, and the winter visitor center is at mile 1.3.

For those who visit and want to get outside, you can do various winter activities like skiing, snowshoeing, and biking.

When is the best time to visit Fairbanks?

Most locals say March is the best time, especially for the northern lights. The days are getting longer and warming up, but you still have excellent aurora opportunities. If you can handle the cold, just go when you have clear skies.

What are the winter temperatures in Fairbanks?

Winter in Fairbanks is usually below zero degrees for the high. But it can fluctuate into the 20s. Whatever it is, it will be cold, and you’ll want to bring your winter great. There are few places in the US that experience that type of cold!

When I was there, it had had a warmer spell and was beginning to plummet. The lows I experienced ranged from -20 to -31. But the week after I left, it rose to 20.

the sky filled with swirling northern lights from outside fairbanks
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch – Alaska 2024

Can I see the northern lights in Fairbanks?

You most definitely can. Aurora season in Fairbanks is from November through April. With it being under the aurora dome, you have incredible odds of seeing it even with a low KP index. They say visitors to Fairbanks have a 90% chance of seeing it if they stay three days and look for it each night.

I was in the area for five nights and saw it three times and would have had a fourth, but my 5am flight meant I needed to sleep.

Final Thoughts: Denali Winter Summit Flight

A Denali winter flight summit trip offers an unforgettable adventure for those seeking a unique and memorable experience.

From the breathtaking views of the snow-covered peaks to the thrill of being eye-to-eye with the tallest point in America, this flight provides an opportunity to witness some of the most stunning landscapes in North America.

Until next time, adventurers, take care and be safe.

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Author: Alec Sills-Trausch

Title: Founder of Explore with Alec

Expertise: Hiking, Backpacking, Photography, and Road Trips

Alec Sills-Trausch is a hiker, backpacker, landscape photographer, and syndicated travel writer. He enjoys showing off the beauty of the world through his photos, videos, and written work on Alec is also a 2x cancer survivor and bone marrow transplant recipient, showing the world that there is a future from this terrible disease.

He lives in Washington, where he gets to enjoy the stunning PNW mountains in addition to all the other places he attempts to visit each year! You can see more work on IG at @AlecOutside